Flyers have had remarkable turnaround, but ...

Posted: February 11, 2014

THE FLYERS' five Olympians arrived in Russia this morning with their heads held high. They traded in their Flyers equipment bags for ones adorning the familiar Swiss crest or Finnish flag and didn't hear any snickers or jokes.

Once the laughingstock of the NHL, firing their coach three games into this season, the Flyers have been impressive.

How impressive? If you were to look at their 30-23-6 record and third seed in the Metropolitan Division, you'd say, 'Eh, not that great.

Three days before this 19-day Olympic break, the Flyers weren't even in a Stanley Cup playoff position with 25 games to play.

That's ridiculous. Since their 4-10-1 start on Nov. 7, the Flyers (26-13-5) have the fifth most wins in the NHL.

They have played remarkably consistent hockey, and the sample size is more than a half a season (44 games). The only teams with more wins over that span are four bonafide Stanley Cup contenders: St. Louis (29-10-4), Pittsburgh (29-10-3), Anaheim (28-11-4) and San Jose (27-14-4).

Chicago (25-9-10) has three more points than the Flyers in that time, but one fewer win and a ridiculous number of shootout/overtime losses.

The Flyers have significantly more points than Tampa Bay (22-16-5), Phoenix (16-17-8), Vancouver (16-19-7), Los Angeles (21-16-6), Dallas (19-15-8) and Minnesota (22-17-3).

The Flyers have as many points as Eastern Conference heavyweight Boston (26-11-3) and more than a Colorado (25-14-5) team they beat on Thursday; both have garnered significantly more buzz or credit in league-wide power rankings.

Yet, among all of those teams, few are fighting for their lives like the Flyers.

Part of that is the Flyers' own fault; they have no one to blame for their poor start. But part of that also has to do with the NHL's fundamentally flawed points system.

"When you see all these three-point games in your division, it seems like you can never really make up any ground," Flyers forward Adam Hall said last week. "I think as a player, if you have a good team, you'd like to see something where you can make up ground and be rewarded for playing well."

Since 2005, the NHL has awarded a point to a team that skates off the ice as a loser in overtime or a shootout. Let that ruminate for a second.

One thing is for sure: The shootout is not going anywhere.

As much as fans might enjoy it - and general managers and coaches loathe it - there are no plans to remove the shootout from the game. Instead, there have only been moves to lessen its impact.

Two years ago, the NHL general managers put in a tiebreaker for regulation and overtime wins (not shootout wins) to determine playoff positioning. That's after Brian Boucher and the Flyers beat the Rangers in a shootout on the last day of the 2009-10 season to earn a playoff spot, a run that culminated in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.

At last December's GM meetings, Detroit's Ken Holland proposed a plan to lengthen overtime an additional 5 minutes at 3-on-3 in the hopes that a winner would be produced without the use of a shootout.

I don't hate the shootout. It is a quick and dirty route to finality. But the only way the NHL is truly going to water down the impact of the gimmick is to change its entire point structure. Put more emphasis on regulation wins. Make them worth three points. Make overtime and shootout wins worth two points. You can still award "one loser'' point, the T-ball equivalent of a participation trophy, since it did require some effort to battle to a tie for 65 or 70 minutes.

"That makes sense," Vinny Lecavalier said when floated the idea last week. "No system is perfect, though."

Calgary Flames president Brian Burke said in 2011 that making games worth three points would be "a poor idea." But it's an even poorer idea to have some games worth three points (2+1) and others just two points.

For the Flyers, looking at the standings plastered everywhere in their practice facility wouldn't be so painful. They'd still be in third in the Metropolitan, but they'd have significantly more cushion on a spot. Last year, they ended up with more regulation wins than both the seventh and eight seeds in the East but still didn't make the playoffs.

This way, it would eliminate fraudulent teams like Washington (15 regulation wins) and New Jersey (16) from contention. But therein lies the problem.

"I could see from a league perspective why they might want to leave it this way," Hall said. "To have as many teams as possible with a chance to make the playoffs gives that kind of drama - that much more aggressive kind of hockey. With everyone so close together in the standings, the games are so much tighter. It might be a good thing."


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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